It’s summer, one summer since the end of the world if you’re keeping track of that sort of thing. To humans, it’s another summer. A little warmer than the year before, perhaps, but in all other ways, a summer.
Summer is an active time for Soho. The streets around Aziraphale’s bookshop grow louder, more colorful, more sparkly than usual. It’s picked up again in the last few years, he thinks. Starting every June rainbows began to appear on flag posts and balconies and people from all over London – from all over England – travel there as though on a pilgrimage.
Aziraphale should be annoyed by the increase of people, of sound and traffic and folk stumbling into his place of (theoretical) business. Certainly he makes a point of putting on the airs of annoyance, lest any patrons get the notion that the bookseller might have a weakness, but the sense of love that this particular commotion carries with it demands to be felt and it softens every edge.
He’s closing down the shop on a warm evening in Mid-July – warm and quite noisy, the parade is only a day away after all – when there is a knock on one of the windows and he is startled by Crowley’s appearance.
Not startled, mind, that Crowley had appeared. Crowley was right on schedule for his appearance, the two of them having planned earlier in the week to try out a new Thai restaurant just a few blocks away. No, what startles Aziraphale is, quite literally, Crowley’s appearance.
For the most part, he looks like Crowley. Excepting, of course, the voluminous rainbow feather boa that is draped over his thin shoulders.
“Oh good lord,” Aziraphale says, before the door is even closed behind him. “Where on earth did you find that?”
“This found me,” Crowley corrects him, tossing one end over the opposite shoulder proudly. “Some kid just now told me I was dressed for a funeral and plopped this on me.”
Aziraphale doesn’t say that Crowley’s – and this kid’s – idea of funeral attire leaves much to be desired. Instead he rolls his eyes while locking up. “And you kept it?”
“I like it.”
“And you don’t.” It’s not a question, and Aziraphale wonders if that knowledge didn’t have some bearing on why Crowley kept it. When Aziraphale says nothing, Crowley grins – confirming his suspicions.
“Thought you liked all this Pride stuff,” he says flicking one end of the boa toward him. Aziraphale recoils as though it were really a snake – and he were the type of person who was afraid of snakes, and Crowley cackles. “Unlike the folk upstairs, of course.”
“Liking the sentiment doesn’t mean I have to like the more garish fashion choices that come with it,” Aziraphale says primly. Crowley snorts. “And Heaven doesn’t have any problem with Pride. I mean- with the sin, yes but not the... this.” He waves a hand vaguely at the streets around them.
“Literal centuries of human history’s gotta disagree with you there,” Crowley says, his voice exceptionally dry.
Aziraphale flushes, the hot flush of deep, painful embarrassment. “Oh. Well. That was all a bit of a… mistranslation, actually.”
“The bit in the book about it being a sin. The passage is supposed to be about… well, it hardly matters what it was supposed to be about now. Humans took it and um, ran with it.”
Crowley is frowning but not at Aziraphale. It’s the absent sort of frown that says he’s trying to remember his bible study. Demons can’t physically touch a holy bible, Crowley had once told him, but most of them get the scripture second or third hand – can’t break the rules if you don’t know them and all that. “Well, why haven’t you corrected them yet? They’ve been getting the Almighty’s words wrong for millennia and you’re just letting them?”
He flushes further. “I, ah, brought it up with Gabriel once. He seemed to think it a clever misdirection.” Crowley raises his eyebrows. “If your lot thought it was a sin then you’d expend a lot of time in effort trying to tempt humans into it, when in reality, it would never harm their souls.”
Harmed them plenty in life, Aziraphale had tried to press, but Gabriel – and so much of Heaven with him – had only been interested in the end product. More souls for Heaven. Less small victories for Hell.
Crowley’s lips thin and Aziraphale isn’t surprised that this has upset him. “Shouldn’t probably tell you how much easier that actually made our jobs,” he says at last. His tone is deceptively light. “It’s the easiest thing in the world to tempt someone into doing something terrible to his fellow man by telling him it’s for a holy reason. We’ve got so many heads of churches down there we could form a whole new Christian sect.”
Aziraphale says nothing, and thankfully Crowley doesn’t goad him. He has a feeling they’re thinking the same thing. So, unsurprisingly, what Heaven had tried to use to get the upper-hand had backfired and the two sides had remained even. The no-score draw between Heaven and Hell’s influences on earth has been what allowed Aziraphale and Crowley their arrangement and, ultimately, their relationship. But that this draw just caused pointless human suffering leaves a bad taste in both their mouths.
“Have people ever given you trouble about it?” Crowley adds, when Aziraphale has apparently been silent too long.
Aziraphale snorts, which earns him a somewhat affronted expression. He can’t help it; that is a rather silly question.
Aziraphale isn’t a gay man, if you want to get very technical about physical parts and the whole business about not being human at all. However, at some point in human history – so early he can’t actually pinpoint it anymore – he began to pick up on the fact that the humans he gravitated the most towards, the ones with whom he had the most shared interests, the most similar behaviors, the ones who seemed to understand his own eccentricities (by human and angelic standards) were humans romantically and sexually inclined to those of the same sex.
Over the centuries he influenced them, they influenced him, back and forth in a merry sort of cycle. He watched out for them in the periods where blacklash on that lifestyle was particularly harsh and celebrated with them when humanity teetered back towards tolerance.
It wasn’t that he loved this subset of God’s creation more, as an angel, as much as he connected with them more, as a person. All told, Heaven would probably find that a worse offense, but Aziraphale couldn’t bring himself to separate himself or dissuade people who, upon meeting him, made certain assumptions. Even when that meant people gave him trouble, as Crowley put it.
“Have they given you trouble?” He asks Crowley, rather than elaborate.
Crowley pauses. “Yeah, alright, when you say it I get how that’s a stupid question.” He smiles sardonically. “Yeah, ‘course they have. Not that I’ve ever given a single fuck about it.”
Even though he asked, Aziraphale knows all of this. Crowley doesn’t scan as other in the same way Aziraphale does, but he’s had a more fluid idea of presenting various human genders over the years and that brings with it its own prejudices. Aziraphale, personally, has always thought that Crowley just looked like Crowley, and even when his fashion sense took a turn towards the dramatic (or garish), Aziraphale still wouldn’t want him any other way.
“Well neither have I,” Azriaphale says. “Given a… care, I mean.”
Crowley glances at him side-long. “Yeah, but doesn’t it bother you? The reason you get any trouble at all is because your side won’t clear up some mistranslation?”
“It’s not my side anymore, dear, as you are so often telling me,” Aziraphale points out with a smile. It fades a second later. “The trouble didn’t mean anything to me – I knew the truth after all. But watching the way other humans would treat… Yes, I suppose that’s bothered me for some time.”
He glances up. There are rainbow banners on the lamp posts. “But they’ve been getting the hang of it, these last few decades. It comes and goes – human progress has never been a straight line and all that – but isn’t it better, like this?” He looks at Crowley, his smile returning. “They’re realizing it all on their own, without Heaven sending them some divine message to tell them that it’s right. It’s their choice. Isn’t that what we’ve fought for?”
Crowley is silent for a long time, before a smile slowly blooms on his face. Aziraphale loves that smile; if he were truly pressed to put an image to what love feels like when he senses it, that smile would be what he’d choose. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I suppose it is.”
Their hands find each other’s without issue. They walk together in silence for a while and when people on the street notice them at all, their reactions are fond and joyful. For right there, right then, the very concept of hate seems to have vanished from the world – pushed elsewhere because there could not be room found for it with all of this overflowing, overwhelming love.
“You’re taking that boa off before we go in the restaurant, right?”
A laugh. “Oh, angel. Not a fucking chance.”